“Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Almost every Christian in America has their own Bible. Most have a high enough literacy level to be able to read it. Comprehending might be harder, but I think most American Christian can give it a good shot. So, there I was teaching in a Sunday School class, many years ago now, when I had everyone open to Matthew 6:33 and I read,
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
After reading it I asked a simple—well what I thought was a simple—question: ”What does this verse say?” I was actually surprised—no one said a thing. They stared at their Bible and then stared back at me—a few times. Their lips pinched together and scrunched up and foreheads frowned, all motioning they had no idea. So I prodded a little more. But nothing. Then someone said, “I don’t know what you mean ‘what does it mean.’ I am not sure what it really says.” I was dumbfounded. Perplexed. Here’s what I got out of that. Even the plain English wasn’t enough to get what this verse said, at least to the “lay reader.” They weren’t let in on the “secret” behind the text. That secret knowledge only certain people have to interpret the Bible.
I don’t think I was far off on this. These good people had grown up in the Church or listened for years to preachers who preached from texts, telling them what a text meant, but the “meaning” wasn’t always obvious. That’s why the preacher had to explain it. This took a special insight; a gift not given to the laity. Or so it seemed. The meaning preached wasn’t what the plain English set before their eyes. The preacher/Sunday school teacher “has special insight” and powers to get a meaning that couldn’t be gotten from words, syntax, and grammar. Now come on—admit it. How many times have you liked what the preacher said, but it’s really not what the text says. And secretly, you just don’t know where the preacher got it.
I think many Christians are simply not motivated to devour the Bible for themselves because what is preached and taught isn’t matched up with the texts the preaching/teaching is from. And it takes special insight and a special connection to God to get this information. One reason the people of the pew don’t dig deep in and devour the Bible is that they don’t have the “secret knowledge” to get what it “really” says. They have been taught this over and over for years as preachers and Sunday School leaders bombard them week after week with “interpretation” that only they could get—because they have special insight and for crying out loud, they have a special connection to God. Heck some, maybe even most, tell us week after week that God gave them this interpretation. They speak for God. We can’t do that. We are not on the in. And who are we to disagree once a preacher says, “I prayed and God gave me this message.” Even if the texts used don’t match up with the interpretation. It must be us—we don’t have that special, secret insightful power. Of course the preacher, et. al. will disagree with me publically, most anyway, but it is what they teach week after week, subtly, some innocently, some purposely. It is what they say with their actions each week.
Another reason, akin to the first, is that the preacher/Sunday School teacher/Bible Study leader doesn’t show the Christians in the pew how… the topic of the third post in this thread…
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Pastor asked a very good question Sunday morning. “Why don’t more Christians devour the Bible?” He inferred, why don’t more Christians really dig into and get to know their Bibles more. I have thought about this for more than two decades, ever since my graduate school days. I do have thoughts on this, and I don’t blame the everyday Christian sitting there in the pew. I think the burden here rests on Pastors and church leaders. First of all, for much of Church history people didn’t have Bibles and relied on the preaching-teaching ministries of the church, whether in cathedrals or in caves or in house churches. Pointing to Colossians 3:16 (“May the word of Christ dwell in your hearts…”) doesn’t resolve the issue, for certainly this text (although Pastor’s try) does not speak to “the Bible” in the Christian’s heart, but the gospel—the oral tradition—which would have been the only knowledge-base available to Christians as early as when Paul wrote these words. (See my Rough Cut on Colossians 3:16, The Gospel-Driven Church)
Why place this at the feet of preachers and local church leaders? Because the New Testament does. It is as simple as that. Furthermore, I believe there is a connection between the poor modeling of Bible exposition interpretation that happens in the pulpit (and in Sunday School, mid-week Bible studies, and so-called special-speaker and evangelistic events) and why the average Christian doesn’t truly get to know and learn their Bible. In other words, I contend that poor exegesis and exposition of the Bible from people and places of power correspond to the poor Bible literacy rates and the where with all to get into the Bible among the laity. In this short thread, I’d like to explain why I believe these are the issues on this matter.
First, I am not saying that Christians ought not to avail themselves to get to know their Bible as a matter of personal faith. However, prior to the printing press and the Gutenberg Bible (1450), no one really had access to a Bible. The “laity” was totally dependent on the preacher/pastors and elders among them for examples and content of the Gospel and other portions of “the Bible.” Now there are, on average, over a dozen Bibles in every home and a Christian Book store in almost every community here in the U.S. Add to this countless radio, TV, and online broadcasts where the Bible is read, printed, preached, and taught 24/7. You would think no-one, at least in the United States, is without excuse about knowing the Bible and “devouring” its contents. But just because we’ve multiplied the availability, doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve increased the ability or the yearning.
First, in the New Testament models, we have the discipler-disciple method of learning the Bible and about the Christian life. Jesus and His disciples being the primary example or paradigm. Second, we have how Paul puts this process in his writings. I refer to Ephesians 4:11-16:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
We can argue about the exact roles and whether the list is made up of categories that exist today in the Church, but we must agree that the list identifies the body of people called Church Leaders. These leaders are in place to equip the saints. That’s plain in the text. What is often overlooked is that these leaders also are how the church body grows—personally, as a church, and the church geographically—into the fullness of Christ. “As a result” such leader-teaching-knowledge of the Son of God-building-up is to make sure that we, as children in the Lord, are not “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” The mention of doctrine is probably a reference to apostolic teaching and tradition concerning the content of the Gospel and what it means to have faith in Christ. So, it is pretty clear that it is the role of church leaders to provide such knowledge—whether it be in teaching or preaching or even table-talk. This is how the church grows in the knowledge of God. Interestingly, Paul nor any New Testament writer, tells the laity to know their Septuagint (the LXX Greek Old Testament) or their Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). There is no mention to devour the parchments! The laity learned it all at the feet and by example from the foundation-people of the church, universal and local, that is church leaders.
Next I am drawn to Paul’s admonishments to Timothy. In First Timothy 3:1-2 we hear
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach… (cf. 2 Tim 2:24).
It is the overseer, the elder, who is to be able to teach who bears the burden. I have found it interesting that when elders are chosen within a church, all the characteristics except the one “able to teach” is applied as a criteria. “[A]ble to teach” is not teach by example, but certainly “able to teach” apostolic teaching and traditions. It is the elders that are charged with guarding and passing on the knowledge of the Gospel and of the Christian faith.
So, it is the church leadership that is responsible for informing and teaching and instructing the laity in the knowledge of God and the Christian faith. No mention here—or elsewhere—of devouring one’s Bible on their own.
Now I must repeat before I am scolded. This affirmation by me here DOES NOT mean I think Christians, on their own, should not have a daily, weekly, regular discipline of Bible reading and study. Not at all. I think we all should. To much has been given; to much will be required. But that sad fact that there is a great deal of biblical illiteracy among the laity and that the laity just doesn’t dig in and devour and read and study the Bible is the fault of preachers and church leaders. First, because, it’s their role in the church! And second, the way people explain the Bible, teach, or preach can hinder the desire to devour or perceived abilities of the laity to study and devour on their own. This second reason will occupy my thoughts in the next post in this thread.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
“Tiger Woods will recover as a golfer. Whether he can recover as a person, I think is a very open question,” said Brit Hume on the show Fox News Sunday. “The Tiger Woods that emerges, once the news value dies out of this scandal, the extent to which he can recover, seems to me, depends on his faith. He’s said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’” Hume, the former news anchor says he became serious about his Christian faith about 11 years ago, when his son Sandy committed suicide at age 28. His words evoked a storm of publicity. “I certainly expected this. I’m nowhere near the first Christian to be mocked for his faith. It is simply a fact of life that the two most explosive words in the English language appear to be Jesus Christ. You don’t even need to say them if you speak openly of Christianity. Faith engenders a tremendous reaction, a lot of it positive and a lot of it negative.…Instead of urging that Tiger Woods turn to Christianity, if I had said what he needed to do was to strengthen his Buddhist commitment or turn to Hinduism, I don’t think anybody would have said a word. It’s Christ and Christianity that get people stirred up” [Quoted in Servant magazine, issue 84].
I was actually listening to the news when Brit Hume said this on air! I knew that there would be a stir, just as his follow-up comment indicates. The main stream media and the various celebrity circles just don’t know what to do when one of their stars makes a sincere public reference to their personal faith in Christ or how their Christian faith is central to their lives. Not only was Hume’s comment personal to his own belief, but it was also factually correct. Biblical faith is the only “religious” expression that actually forgives a person’s sins and gives the means to redeem one’s live after that sin—both in the here and now and in the afterlife. All other religions require works or some form of offering; some don’t even deal with the sin at all. Hume’s comment was a public confession, but also a wise piece of advise to one who so publicly sinned against many, and, oh yes, his wife. Forget golf as well, Tiger. That religion will not offer the forgiveness and redemption you need, nor what your wife and children deserve. And the MSM just needs to get over it when Christianity invades their sacred places. And, Christians need to get over it that the MSM and the world is just not going to get over it.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Glancing through Servant magazine, I always like the stats and quoteworthies my good and now old(er) friend and editor of the publication, Phil Callaway, puts in each issue. These particularly had an impact on me:
- Estimated number of deaths in Haiti’s earthquake: 200,000
- Number of children worldwide who die each month from malnutrition and disease: 200,000
- 850 million people will go to bed hungry tonight
- Approximately four billion people live on less than $4 per day
- 1 billion live on less than $1 per day
- 2 billion on $1 to $2 per day
- 1 billion on $2 to $4 per day
Of course we should all be concerned with the people of Haiti, but it wasn’t the earthquake that killed all though people; it was only the vehicle, the means. The Haitian leaders are ultimately at fault for not addressing everything from the decrepit infrastructure and housing conditions to the vast spread of poverty. Although Rush Limbaugh received flack for saying so, nonetheless, ‘tis true. Furthermore, in perspective, per the quotes, the same number of children die of malnutrition and disease each month—we are those who sing “we are the world” for these children? Where are Christians on these matters? My crazy daughter keeps telling me I should run for something political. Actually I had, when younger, thought about it. But I tell her now, I couldn’t be an elected person to much of anything because I couldn’t’t sleep at night knowing that it was in my power to make sure no children in my demographic charge went to bed at night hungry. No one gets reelected on that kind of platform. Of course these issues highlighted in the quotes from Servant magazine, are just about getting food to people and rescuing earthquake victims and getting the bottom billion higher day pay-rate—it is about the systems which are and the people in place who are barriers to ameliorating these conditions. Of course changing people’s hearts is important, but these stats shouted out to the Christian community it’s not just about individualized sinning but as much from unrighteousness and injustice systems in which people live. Of course I want the problems solved “overseas,” but I continually wonder why the American evangelical Christian community doesn’t make it their mission to address the issues of poverty right here in the U.S. Certainly, one cannot read the Bible and think its not God’s mission.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
We’re crazy. Some great and godly men here in Fairfield, CT have launched the crazy and almost impossible idea of starting an evangelical seminary in Southern New England in the heart of progressively liberal, very secular, Fairfield County Connecticut. Crazy, I know! But still, a great vision for this area. I cannot officially speak for the group, but the ground work has been laid, and we’re even offering the first course (unaccredited of course, but a college-seminary level offering nonetheless). The course is a typical theological institution offering: Introduction to Christian Apologetics. The course, set for this fall (Sep 14-Dec 4), will be team taught by the various instructor-leaders of The New England School of Theology. The syllabus outline is posted on the website for those interested.
I am fully supportive of a good apologetics course being taught—I am humbled I am one of the team-instructors. I have been interested in apologetics for many, many years (at about 30 now), having read, studied, and taught on Christian apologetics in various forms throughout the years. But this past year, as a result of undertaking a paper on the subject of “Idolatry and Poverty” for last year’s Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting (in New Orleans), I have a new appreciation for an apologetic that actually is the one used in the Bible. Without rehashing my paper, let me summarize just a little. For those wanting to browse all my posts and threads on the research and drafts, you will find them under the topic “Idolatry and Poverty (paper)” on my site.
In essence, there is a strong and consistent relationship throughout the Bible between the issues of poverty and idolatry, and within an apologetic context. I not only demonstrate this in the paper, but I show how it’s embedded into the very fabric of the Gospel we say saves us. Without it, the revealed Gospel is no gospel and cannot save anyone. Second, I found it interesting that God often pits Himself against the other gods and idolatrous practices of the non-believing world. Yes, a biblical God vs. the gods kind of approach. I write in my paper:
Although few doubt the Christian call to serve the poor, the Bible, however, is not the first set of ancient documents to promote the protection and care for the poor, nor did Jews and Christians invent our concepts of justice. The world of the ANE was very familiar with the care and protection to be given the poor, particularly by its deities, monarchs, and sovereigns. The concept and practice was pre-Israelite and pre-dated Israelite propheticism. Israel was indeed unique in excluding the worship of other gods besides Yahweh, but much of the ethical content associated with the biblical God can be found elsewhere in the ancient world. As for the caring and protecting of the poor, there was little new under the religious and socio-economic sun. From the beginning of recorded history, people, societies, and governing structures (whether Empires or “at the city gate”) have all struggled with how to assist the poor. The Pentateuchal texts compare, even regarding the poor, to Sumerian and Akkadian Laws of Babylon. Protection for the unfortunate, the poor, and indigent was “common policy” in the ANE and was not “unfamiliar to the Western Semites.” What is of particular interest is that the defense of the poor was “seen as a virtue of gods, kings, and judges,” essentially a policy of virtue that proved the piety and character of a ruler, monarch, or god.
In light of antecedent ANE concerns for the poor, the uniqueness for the Israelite is that everything narrows down to one God who is alone righteous, who brings about justice for the poor. Thus, enter the strong warnings against having other deities before Yahweh and the prohibitions against any form of idolatry (political allegiance or cultus worship) that would challenge the place of Yahweh as the one true God. Idolatry alone was the ultimate expression of unfaithfulness to God, fully deserving divine judgment. The Genesis creation account is set within a God vs. the gods polemic. The ten-plagues against Egypt and the Pharaoh were executed to demonstrate Yahweh’s place as the true God. Later in 1 and 2 Kings, Israelite kings are portrayed as either good or bad “purely on religious grounds,” whether “they destroyed or introduced idols.” There is a polemic thread running through the Old Testament that idols and the gods or monarchs they reflect are “powerless” (cf., Pss 115; 135), unable to perform virtuous acts, and to trust in them is an embarrassment (Hab 2:18-19). The Old Testament presents the God of the Exodus as the one true God who ultimately cares for and protects the poor.
Not only was it biblical to say, “My God is bigger and better than your god (or ruler or king or tribal leader or monarch),” but equally biblical to say, “My god takes care of the poor and stops generational poverty better than your god (or ruler or king or tribal leader or monarch).” This is most definitely why it is important to include our relationship to the poor and advocacy for the poor as a major component regarding our apologetic, our reason why others should believe in our God and in His Son, Jesus, the Messiah. Although posted elsewhere on my site, I want to repeat my concluding remarks from the paper. I read them just recently to one of my colleagues here in the Finance Department at work, and after she heard them she replied, “We really don’t live this way.” My conclusion and why it’s of biblical importance to consider why the issue of poverty is actually an issue of Christian apologetics…even if its not in the syllabus outline. Eventually, I hope it’s a course!
The present model for socio-economic progress and prosperity objectifies the non-poor Christian’s reality (i.e., “home world”) through habits and experiences of everyday life that are incorporated into his or her belief system—seemingly validating the plausibility of personal faith. The problem for the non-poor Christian living in such a history and current social-location, then, experiences only a partial reality, which is a defective social construction. The Bible warns of God’s judgment upon those who create or maintain economic structures that benefit some and exclude others; that pave the way to prosperity for some and prolonged, generational poverty for others (e.g., Exod 22-23; Lev 19, 24; Deut 15, 24; Jer 4-8, 16-17; 22; Ezek 17-18, 22; Amos 4:1ff; Mic 2:1-2; Zech 7; Isa 5:7ff). Unaware or in denial of their socially constructed world, the non-poor believer can accept a world that is duplicitous, limiting the historic and current benefits of a socio-economic system to those the “market blessed.”
Emil Brunner famously remarked, “For every civilization, for every period of history, it is true to say, ‘show me what kind of gods you have, and I will tell you what kind of humanity you possess.’” For the Christian and Christian community it is, Show me what kind of association you have with those living with the effects of poverty, and I will tell you what kind of god you worship. The reality of everyday life, the acceptance that Suburban life and its enablers—the free market and human acts of power—are often at odds with the Gospel, especially a Gospel that has been formed by the idolatry-poverty juxtaposition. For the non-poor Christian this is an idolatrous mode of living and does not offer a biblically defensible apologetic for the God revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
While I am on the subject of my daughter, I already mentioned she is taking a summer mission trip in June. Amanda has a great opportunity to live on an Indian Reservation in June as part of a team of high school and college age students. The team will spend about two weeks on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota with the Lakota Indians. Last summer Amanda indicated a desire to learn more about American Indians, and in particular to live on a Reservation. After a wide search we found that the Episcopal Diocese of Texas facilitates a two week trip. Not only does she have to raise the funds for this trip, she must prepare by studying in advance about the Indian culture and the needs they have on the reservation. She has assignments from the sending agency that are a part of the condition to join the team. She has been working on these assignments. Amanda is interested in History (she wants to be an archaeologist and a history teacher) and considers this adventure a part of her educational experience as well as part of her spiritual formation. As her father, I agree. The following is what she wrote in her support letter:
Dear Friends and Family:
Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” And then, almost in the same breath He said, “But go and learn what this means: I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE’” (Matthew 9:12-13). This June, I am embarking on a journey to learn what this means.
I am really excited about an opportunity this summer where I can serve on a mission team going to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The team will be trained and led by Sherry Lucas of North American Indian Ministries (NAIM). In the last eight years there have been eighteen teams, with team members from many different denominations, all serving together to learn what it means to have compassion by showing those who live in Rosebud the love and grace of Christ. NAIM organizes the trips, trains the team, and raises funds for continued outreach and programs on the Reservation. Their website is http://www.northamericanindianministries.org
The trip will take place between June 11th and June 20th. During our trip we will conduct a Bible School, make nursing home visits, host community meals, work with the youth through the youth club and the children’s center, and help with work projects as needed.
The total cost of the trip is $500.00 per person. My goal is to raise this money by June 1st, and hopefully with your help. Because I will be experiencing a new culture I’m not used to, I am also asking for your prayers. Please pray for me as I now prepare individually and, then, grow with the team.
If you are led to support me in prayer or financially, please indicate this on the return slip below. As NAIM is a 501c3 charity your support is tax deductible.
Thank you very much for joining me in learning what Jesus meant when He said to learn to have compassion.
And some of you who read my streams of consciousness know Amanda and might want to help. Please feel free to do so. The address for the mission is below. For those wanting to support Amanda, please mark in the memo of the check “For Amanda Anderson.”
North American Indian Ministries (NAIM, Inc.)
P.O. Box 17583
Sugar Land, TX 77496
Both my daughter and I, along with the Lakota Indians in South Dakota, will appreciate your support…and prayers. Thanks from Amanda’s dad!
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Amanda was 9 years old when she went to speak to the pastor’s wife about salvation. I had no doubt she had already asked Jesus in her heart years before, but Amanda obviously saw a need to make sure and to pray with the pastor’s wife. I tried, over the years, not to interfere or manipulate my daughter’s spiritual journey, especially when it came to her salvation. Yes, of course, church, without question, was important and an every week event, with Bible Study and children’s mid-week ministries, and even Son-Singers. But, I have seen it over and over, parents either manipulate their kids into salvation or the children “accept Jesus” to please their parents, friends, or its expected, or even just for the child’s or teen’s need to be affirmed by their church-family, and in the end, it wasn’t really for salvation. Too often, it was for the parents to feel better about their kids “being saved.” The problem is, salvation isn’t for the parent’s self-image, nor really for the child/teen’s self-image among the peer groups at church—it’s for the present life and eternal destiny of a fellow human being, who needs Christ for no other reasons but to glorify God and be made righteous—and who just happens to be their own child. I have tried my best to not put on a show for Amanda or give her churchie expectations. When it came to her spiritual life—in salvation and in growing as a Christian—I have done the hard thing, acted like a fellow sinner in need of Christ, and then, after she became a Christian, like a brother in Christ. (This is really hard to do and never really talked about at church much.) Of course I am her father, and of course I set standards and expectations as a parent, but it’s God’s job to bring our children to Christ and to empower spiritual growth. Whether right or wrong in the eyes of others, this is what I did as a Christian parent for my daughter—best I could.
I am thankful that Christ acted early in Amanda’s life. I have enjoyed spending time talking about the Bible with her. I have always shared my thoughts about my Christian worldview on many and various topics. Someday I knew she’d be off on her own, and finding a college and going (hopefully) in the Fall of 2011, enter as a freshman. So, I have attempted letting God prepare her for that best I could and hopefully not interfering too much. After we visited Crown College in MN, the college I graduated from, we shared with me that God was impressing on her that, perhaps, she’d like to go to a country that doesn’t let regular missionaries in. She even wrote a thank you note to the guy that gave the tour at Crown. She wrote in part,
Please let Dr. Bedford and Dr. Norby know that, not only did I enjoyed my time with them, learning about what to expect in their programs [the History degree and Teacher Education Degree], but also for helping me focus on my goals. In fact, Crown’s emphasis on missions and the Doctors linking their programs to potential overseas ministry and vocational possibilities actually helped me make a big decision in my walk with Christ—to live for His purpose only, determining to follow wherever that purpose leads me. One of the things I thought about after that day at Crown was how I might use a teaching degree to open possibilities in areas of the world that are closed to regular missionaries. So I am grateful for their straightforward and honest assessment regarding my goals and their degree programs. It certainly helped me to focus on what I am looking for in my college and degree choices.
I think this is real hard for a parent—letting God do this kind of directing in our young, inexperienced, yet to be adult-mature, teenager. But somehow in the midst of doing all the parenting right, I need to let God be God in my daughter. I want her to be a lawyer and then eventually the President of the United States. She even said she wanted to be President back when she was 6, 7, and 8. But now—with a little more experience under her belt, some experience making hard decisions (like the one to be involved with her unchurched and skeptical friends from high school rather than involved in a church youth group) and some good critical thinking skills—she is listening to God, looking for a college that will enable her to go and be used in places where Christians are always welcome and serve the people and Christ. As her father, why would I want anything less for my daughter and sister-in-Christ?
PS This June, Amanda has received permission to leave school a little early for a mission trip to an Indian Reservation in South Dakota. She leaves for Houston on June 10th and then drives with a team of adults and teens to South Dakota to stay and minister on an Indian reservation for about 10 days. More on this later…
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
My daughter has been visiting colleges. She has been selective, but open to different kinds, including Christian colleges and universities. She even asked to visit my alma mata, Crown College in St. Bonifacious, MN. (Some will remember it as St. Paul Bible College, its former name.) She loved that they had chapel and that even the teachers she met (some were my former teachers!) said they’d be praying for her as she makes her decision about college.
We visited others as well. After one visit to a Christian college (I will leave unnamed because its history and work in serving the cause of Christian ministry and mission is far better than the impression made here), my daughter was quite for almost a day. She said she had to think about whether it’s a school she could be at. Finally, she said she was ready to talk about it. I was not surprised, but very impressed at her observations—two stand out as pivotal in determining whether the college would be a good place for her.
First, Amanda was a little troubled when one of the people giving the tour of the campus mentioned that their soon-to-be-going-to-college teen mentioned he wanted to be a professional sportsman (I am withholding the actual sports career choice for obvious reasons). The parent (who was the guide) said they were a little concerned because it didn’t seem to be a good Christian career choice, especially in terms of potential ministry or missions. That bothered my daughter. Amanda told me, “Who is to say what is and isn’t a career that God can call a person to. Maybe God was laying that particular career choice on that teen.” Amanda felt there was no encouragement from the parents and that there was actually a shallow spirituality disguised in God-talk.
Second, Amanda said she it bothered her when she was asked about her involvement in youth group and church. It was made clear that this was important to the school in looking at potential freshman. Not that Amanda doesn’t think these things important; but over the years her concentration has been on her non-Christian, unchurched friends from school—not hanging out at church or at youth group meetings (which she did from time to time). When she mentioned this, the faculty member said, “Oh, yes, you spend time with your ’ministry’ friends.” No, Amanda said she had thought in her head—she was being polite because she was their guest—they are my friends, not “ministry friends,” friends no matter what, friends who can count on her, life-long friends. She told me, what upset her was that, again, there was this sense that there was a shallow spirituality being put forth. She said they didn’t understand how she viewed herself as a Christian in this world and that at this school they wouldn’t let her be what God created her as (or is that “for”). Plus, she knew that she might be the only “Jesus” that many of her friends see, one of the few “churched” people they would spend any time with. She said she knew that she couldn’t be herself at that school.
I have not forced Amanda, or even strongly hinted that she should or has to go to youth group. She told me long ago that the time she has available as extra or for extra things with all the homework and studying she has (she is in AP and honor courses), she decided that she’d concentrate giving that time to her school friends. She has paid the price—even at church and among Christians—for that decision.
After visiting Crown College, my college, she mentioned that God had impressed upon her that she should consider getting a degree that would allow her to go into countries that don’t allow Christian missionaries. I think her choice to be committed to her unchurched friends as being a true friend might very well be missionary training for my daughter. Someday she might very well be in a place as the only “Jesus” others see.
Saturday, May 08, 2010
Finally, some concluding thoughts. Please remember these are first thoughts. I am hoping to work on a paper, maybe to present, but certainly as a chapter in my hopeful book on evangelism and Social Action: “Significance Before Application: Proclaiming, Casting, and Evangelistic Social Action Outcomes.” But for now, these concluding remarks are very rough draft. My concern in this thread was to attempt some thoughts and a preliminary answer to the question, “How is casting out demons = to social action.” I have suggested below in the posts to this thread that it is not that casting = social action, but that the significance of the fulfillment of the promise to become fishers (Mark 1:17), that is, the significance of the commission to announce the arrival of the kingdom and the activity of casting out of demons (Mark 3:14-15), ought to have social action applications—I’d rather say, they can have social action outcomes.
First as briefly discussed above, I believe part of the impasse, the barrier, to seeing how social action outcomes are a legitimate evangelistic outcome is that we start with application and move back to the text. We start with witnessing and other verbal forms of evangelism and we read back into the Gospel story that is what Jesus must have meant in saying you will become fishers of men. Second, we have a problem with moving from proclaiming the gospel to anything other than “the four spiritual laws,” or “Jesus died on the cross for your sins.” And third, we make no application regarding the significance of the fisher activity of “casting out demons” other than literal exorcism. So we stop and assume we know what the text says because we’ve already figured out how to apply it. So the text (i.e., “fishers of men” in Mark 1:17) must mean what we already think it means, namely, we are to verbally communicate that Jesus saves and fish, catch people for Christ, i.e., get them to convert, be saved, become a Christian. This however is our doing, not the text’s inference, and certainly not what is presented even throughout the whole of the New Testament.
I’d like to return for a moment to Mark 1:14-15, Jesus’ first summary of His ministry and Mark’s primary summary text of the content of what the Jesus-ministry-mission is.
Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Let me borrow from Joel Markus’ thought on this passage from his commentary on Mark 1-8. We read this as two statements, but we do not read them as two parallel statements that explain or correspond to each other, which would not have been so far-fetched given the Hebrew thinking of the one who said it (Jesus) and the one who wrote it (Mark). Let’s just say it’s a structure that smacks of Hebrew parallelism.
The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand
Repent and believe in the Gospel
The significance of the parallelism is that the time of the old age, or this present evil age with all its anti-YHWH aspects, has come to an end; that time (the καιρὸς) has come to its eschatological end, for the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated. The old age of Satan’s rule over mankind has come to its eschatological end, albeit in a “now and not yet” form. And, the time of God’s dominion, His right to rule over the realms of mankind, has come—His Kingdom has been inaugurated in the appearance of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). (Also in the “appearance” are the other inaugurators as well—John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit, and the fishers of men.) The first imperative is to repent, which corresponds to the first indicative that the Kingdom has come. The second imperative is to believe, which corresponds to the second indicative that the hearers are to turn to belief/faith in (loyalty to) the good news that the new age of God’s dominion has dawned.
The fisher-promise, which comes right after this ministry-mission summary, pulls those who follow this King Jesus, the Messiah, to mirror this ministry-mission. As Jesus begins his ministry in the following verses through chapter 3, consisting of proclamation and casting (and healing), so now in Mark 3:14ff the followers are commissioned to mirror the same. The content of the Kingdom is drawn from Old Testament covenant texts, land-stipulations, and prophetic judgments—all of which contain issues related to the economically vulnerable (as I have already demonstrated and written and posted even on this site). Why shouldn’t we think that both the proclaiming and the casting interventions are related to bringing about the values, laws, and regulations that mirror the rule and reign of the arrived King? One certainly explains it; the other certainly demonstrates it. The proclaiming in the Gospel isn’t about “Jesus saves” (although one of the outcomes associated with the presence of the Kingdom for sure), but about the time when God’s Kingdom has arrived and all of creation is to realign itself with this Kingdom, and all people are to reorient themselves to the demands and values of this Kingdom.
Those who say “fishers of men = verbal communication of the Gospel as evangelism” forget there is a second part, “casting out of demons.” Of course there are those who believe casting is a miracle for today—this is not the debate here, although I have no problem with that assumption. What I am driving at here is, “Do we cast as well as preach, witness, and proclaim?” Few do. So how do those who disagree with me “cast out demons?” Or, do we take literally the fisher commission to proclaim (and narrow it down to only individual salvation) and “spiritualize” or do away with the commission to “cast”? Or perhaps we should see the significance of the Gospel of Mark’s commission and the two interventions of preaching and casting, that is interventions that are to reorient ourselves to God’s inaugurated Kingdom and that God’s Kingdom is “aggressively” taking over the realms of Satan, the present evil age, which has distanced itself through private actions of individuals, through structure sin (intended and unintended), and through both intended and unintended consequences of the choices and social structures we live within? Long sentence, but it makes my point.
Furthermore, as I have pointed out elsewhere, even the casting in Mark’s Gospel, particularly in the lengthy section of chapter 5, is actually about God’s stronger man invading the realms of mankind in order to bring about God’s rule and reign. More on this in a future thread. For now, I believe we should see the significance of the commission to proclaim and cast as interventions that are to move the realms of mankind away from the present evil age that has come to its end and move the realms of mankind—individually and corporately, things of the private sphere and things of the public sphere—toward the outcomes that are to be associated with the arrival of God’s Kingdom.
Yes, proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom and the casting out of demons are to be understood as including social action outcomes that address the needs and conditions of those who live in poverty. Social Action Outcomes can be biblical evangelism.
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